The NaNoWriMo Experience

 Why this post?

A month and a half back, nearly at the end of October, I planned a set of posts for the blog that I would do in November. I would be busy doing the NaNoWriMo and what thing can be more wonderful than writing nano related posts? I wanted to write weekly updates. I wanted to talk about what I learnt through writing so much. I wanted to rave about my learnings. I wanted to crib at the inevitable setbacks.

All those plans failed, though. Once I got sucked into the vortex of writing, I did not have the energy to even reply to the comments on my blog (not that there were many).

So, this should have been the last in a long series of posts; instead it is standalone. What have I learnt from trying to fit 50k words in 30 days?

What I Learnt

First and foremost, it is a mind-altering (replace that with mindset) experience. Writing a lot, writing regularly, showing up and pushing at it stretches the writing muscle in unimaginable ways. I found myself feeling very confident of my writing abilities after these stints. It is like taking the angst out of writing and striking out all the romantic notions of the Muse. Writing feels more of a craft than being a mere talent that I am dredging up.

I understand the writing process much better now. I understand the places where I face blocks. I understand which times of the day are good for writing. I know what to do when there are minor conflicts in the plots. (Outline, question yourself and bring up plausible answers). I know how to work around gaping plot holes (go for a walk, the longer, the better. Each extra mile brings a fresher perspective). I have learnt to rewrite flat scenes and make them more layered.

Writing a lot, even when you have nothing to write forces you to bring up words from the very depths of your being and that is actually good and magical because otherwise those experiences and words stay in your subconscious. There have been times when I was simply pushed in a corner regarding a particular scene but I soldiered on, wrote some more, hated myself for writing rubbish, forced myself to imagine the unbelievable, wrote that and found some gems.

This NaNoWriMo, I wanted to be a rebel. There was last year’s MS staring at me and I was trying not to catch it’s eye. I have neglected it a lot but the fact was that I was absolutely terrified of opening it again and look at how bad the slush pile really was. But there was no way I was going to start writing something new. I could not have handled the guilt. So, I put on my cool sunglasses (ahem, the sunglasses were normal temperature; they just made me look cool) and picked up last year’s 50k pile to attempt to make it better.

This strategy made me understand the joy of first drafts. Till now, they have been the source of vexation, the mine from where I was yet to find diamonds. Now I love their spontaneity and their potential and that writing them can be so easy as compared to rewriting an existing manuscript.

I have always loved the idea of writing quickly. Last year, I timed myself and the faster I wrote the better I felt. There is no greater exhilaration than having a few thousand words under your belt at the end of the day. This year has been different. I saw that writing very fast affects the quality of my writing even when I stick to an outline. So, I went back to writing thoughtfully, deliberately, choosing words carefully so that my satisfaction at the end of the day stemmed from writing meaningfully.

And yes, writing buddies are invaluable. Also, the NaNoWriMo forums are awesome. Every once in a while I got frustrated by my lack of progress and I needed to vent. I wrote long rambling angst ridden passages to myself, setting out why I was writing and what things I was trying to accomplish (showing off the NaNoWriMo winner certificate topped the list). Some days, I could not understand what was I doing. Was I writing? Editing? Rewriting? Looking for plot holes and incongruous character development? These were the times when I found that bouncing ideas with my writing friends led to clarity much sooner than a pity party or a rant would have brought. So, I am keeping my sympathisers and critics close to me.

And, also…

There were also things that I hated. I disliked the intrusion of my Inner Editor (IE) very much. The first week goes along fine. That’s the time to ride the crest of your writerly voice. Soon, the IE manages to unshackle itself and show up. Looking over your shoulder, making disparaging remarks; your writing life turns to hell. It’s really important to exercise all your will power and throw the IE back into the dungeon.

I also started obsessing over word count. Usually, I stop writing when I have covered the major points and have said all that I wanted to say and the piece looks complete. Now, I was counting words in my writing and my texting and my talking. I was evaluating every event of my life in terms of how much time it took and how many words I could have written instead.

Being immersed in writing and doing not much else for long stretches of time is my idea of bliss and while I loved every minute of that chance, I also realised that writing too much can and does lead to a burnout. We need breaks. However, this year, I did not have the luxury of doing that because I had spent too much time thinking and rethinking the plot, making some changes in the structure and trying to chase the word count at the same time. Towards the end, I was reduced to talking to myself while walking on the road, alone. I would laugh and frown for no apparent reason, at least not apparent to the people around me. Visualising a new scene put me in a frenzy of writing and after it had been written, I often found myself sitting and typing away in very odd places.

Would I do it all over again, if I had the choice? Yes, of course!

How did you find your NaNoWriMo experience? Please share your insights.

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How Chris Baty saved me from going down the rabbit hole of despair

Chris Baty needs no introduction to NaNoWrimers. The founder of National Novel Writing Month, in 1999, along with 21 of his friends set out to write a complete novel of 50k words. He has been an inspiration since, both in managing the November event and in pulling writers out from the depths of despair through his pep talks.

I had the fortune to read his book, ‘No plot, No Problem’, just before last year’s writing marathon. I sped read to ensure I knew everything about NaNoWriMo before getting into it. It is a hilarious, easy-to-read and profoundly informative manual on how to tackle the writing and how to conquer the fears, insecurities, the writing blocks and the inevitably super critical Inner Editor. Chris Baty goes into the entire month, moving from week to week, explaining what to expect and what problems the writers are likely to encounter and of course how to handle them. Through sharp wit and unrelenting humour, Chris Baty holds your hand through the entire process of churning out a first draft of a nearly full length novel.

Post NaNoWriMo, it is desirable that the first draft be revised and edited and rewritten to make it a readable book. But even if that does not come about and you feel that the world is not ready for your masterpiece just yet, doing the writing marathon is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Check out the book and sharpen your pencils.

How to Create a Literary Masterpiece in 30 days

For the writers who sweat it out day after day, painstakingly writing and crossing out, editing and rewriting and creating worlds through sheer hard work, the idea of writing a novel in 30 days is a laughable proposition. And incredibly naive.

Having been through NaNoWriMo once and having survived, I can say with confidence that it is possible to set down 50 k words in a month but that makes only an initial draft. True, writing a novel or a book takes more than that, both in time and effort. But NaNoWriMo is the first push you can give yourself and the first clear commitment you can make to yourself for getting over that writing project or starting a new ambitious work that would eventually became a literary masterpiece.

First and foremost, have the energy and the plan to write 1667 words per day, if you are going to write each and every day. That, sometimes is not possible because life catches up so the word count should be a little higher as a cushion for the non writing days. Prepare to write a lot every day and to prioritise writing over a lot of other things, at least for a short period of a few weeks.

The next thing to be sure of is about what you are writing. I went in completely clueless last NaNoWriMo. I mean I had a vague plan, a very unformed story and just the mood and the emotion only three days before I actually started writing. This meant that I stumbled through the story for many days till I found my feet. I would go through the writing, even notching up the word count but much of the early writing needed to be cut out and rewritten. So having a good outline is good idea. There would be surprises, of course, and your story might veer off the path entirely but just in case the book does not write itself, you know in which direction to push it.

These are just two things, which, when done right would help you reach the 50k mark without much difficulty. Who knows, you may overshoot the mark and keep at the writing.

Good Luck to all the NaNoWrimers! Announce your novel to the world, soon.

NaNoWriMo 2017

Autumn is the season for reading and wtiting. After a month of reading voraciously, mainly the Booker nominated books (a couple more reviews to come, here are the links to Elmet, the Booker winner, Lincoln in the Bardo and Exit West), I am ready to go into the November writing festival of NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo in November is the best binge-writing time of the year, with thousands of writers coming together (virtually) to churn out entire novels, and complete an ambitious word count of 50,000 words in a mere 30 days.

I have always loved the idea of writing a lot, to the exclusion of nearly everything else. It brings to my mind romantic notions of a cabin in the dense woods of a hill, the pine scents pervading everything, no sounds except the chirping of the birds and no mundane daily routine either. It tells me that I am a writer first and foremost and I can pour out my soul into those pages.

But real life is rarely such a dream and we all have to earn and work and get through our days doing boring and unpleasant chores and sometimes writing takes a backseat. November is an excellent time to remind ourselves of our higher calling and purpose.

So I settle down this year, committed to writing at least 1667 words per day, putting down words without much editing or much fear or much self criticism so that I can create a shining, new draft that would become my next book.

Wish me luck. And tell me if you are joining along.

Thanks 2016… It’s been Weird *

To sum up the year gone by would be to bundle together plenty of contradictory things that happened and to make sense of them. 

It would be like trying to decide whether the totally scary things led to any good, in the tradition of whatever -happens-is-for-the-best or trying to understand that the wonderful, out-of-the-world experiences would have lasting benefits. 

I would have to make sense of all the times I looked over my shoulder, in whether that was to gauge my own mortality or to come to terms with others’. I would have to understand the nature of human fragility, the quirks of fate and the indomitable human spirit as I assessed people’s reactions to the adversities that they go through. 

In looking back, I would be grateful for the knowledge that the Guardian Angels have been looking over me, as they have been all this time, only that I never recognized it to be such. I would be thankful for the people in my life for the constant support and encouragement. 

There were failings of the excrutiating kinds, the ones that made me go omg-how-could-I and then there were the jump-in-the-air moments that made me yell eureka. 

Writing wise, I found my feet. I could write more and in different ways and stepped out of the comfort zone. I could write more on the blog and elsewhere and attempted to write a book length manuscript. I could finally get back to doing what I have loved well. 

In many other ways and at different times, I found equanimity. The swings of fate and the ups and the downs of life did make for a roller coaster ride but I was able to bounce back quicker and get on with the business of life. 

There are a range of emotions in every heart and I could be a part of that range with many people and in many ways. It was a year of reaching out, of reconciliation and of creating new bonds. 

At the beginning of the year, I moved to a new place to live. I was most reluctant to do so but it turned out to be the biggest blessing I have had. In retrospect, I could make a difference to someone’s life. It also prepared me for the inevitability of certain things in life. 

It has also been the year when I rediscovered many of the passions that I had let go of over the years because of busyness or because I had convinced myself that I had outgrown those interests. I got to know how wrong I had been. 

It has also been the year of people, the ones I had all along and the ones I pulled out from the cobwebs of the past. It has been good to rekindle the connections and sometimes disconcerting to realize how people who have been together for a long time can also grow apart. 

In all, it has been a mix as life always is and as all years are. But the experience has been good and here is looking forward to the next weird year. 

*The post title is the tagline from Spotify’s new outdoor global ad campaign. 

Conquering the Writer’s Block

Most of us think that writing effectively and clearly is an inborn talent. It is not considered a skill that could be learnt or improved upon much. Either you have the flair for writing or you don’t have it. 

While it is true that most people have a natural inclination for certain types of skills, yet writing well is not something that cannot be learnt. For people to whom it comes naturally, there is a certain joy and they pursue that joy. They do it again and again and they get better due to the sheer persistence and through the learning they get along the way. It is true of writing just as it is true of every other skill. 

But even for long timers, a very real deterrent comes in the form of a feeling of being stuck after a while or being in a rut. It is referred to as the dreaded Writer’s Block. 

When can the Writer’s Block strike? It can strike anytime. It can happen when you have taken a longer than usual break from the writing. And it can happen even in the aftermath of a writing marathon, when the going is so good that you feel like God, the creator of your story, the hand that controls what happens to the characters and who gets born and who does what. It might take only a day to come down from the pinnacle of that writing and go deep in the dumps. 

Feeling stressed about writing or not writing is also a cause for the block to get heavier. 

And a very real reason are the expectations… others expectations from your work and your own. You might want to reach the pinnacle of your writing again and again but it might not be possible to produce everything of the sane quality all the time. 

Whatever may be the reason for the Writer’s Block, it really can strike anytime and it is best to be prepared rather than go deeper into despair and taking a long time to surface. 

Writer’s Block typically manifests itself into ‘what to write’. 

To counter the dearth of topics when you don’t know what to write is to have a list ready… of the things, situations that talk to you, that get you so excited that you cannot wait to sit down and wax forth on it. 

Make the list of the things you are passionate about, make a list of the things that jump out at you, as you go about your life. Know what you like to do, like skating or gardening or sculpting or knitting , things of which you could talk intelligently and possibly can teach others something as well. Think of your favourite foods and make a list. You could probably tell others how it could be done and how to improve upon it. Think of the books you have always liked and you can tell others why and what you liked about them in the first place. You could think of the restaurants you like and why and the places you have traveled to and how they enriched your life. Take them all together and make a long, long list or write them on little slips of paper that can act as mystery subjects that you can pick and treat as your prompt. 

Your very own prompt list is ready and you would not be able to say that you do not know what to write about. 

The next thing is the inability to write well, coherently, cohesively. You may have a certain style that you are very comfortable with. In dire circumstances, which are the times when the block is sitting heavily on you, step out of the comfort zone. The writing that you are doing is terrible already and there is nothing to lose by being even more terrible, so change that style. Go for longer pieces if you normally write shorter pieces. Explore different voices, from serious to a little funny to tongue in cheek to slap stick. Write poignantly or at least attempt to, if you write only funny pieces. 

We all have these elements in mind, the entire gamut of human experiences and we let out only a few sides of ourselves. Write poetry if you abhor it. Write a journalistic piece if you hate news items. Go analytical in your pieces if you like to talk of only feelings and emotions. Be a reporter if you have never been. Write a memoir if you are scared of writing about yourself. 

Another thing is to not care about being judged. It is one of the main causes of the block being there in the first place. You write well and then you get a lot of appreciation and support and suddenly you cannot reckon how on earth could you live up to those expectations. It seems that everything you write is under scrutiny. One sure way to counter this is to tell yourself or to fool yourself into thinking that you are only writing in your private journal and that no one would be reading it. If necessary, think of the pesonal journal having a padlock with the key secure in a good place. Then, write. Some say, bleed. Write whatever is in your mind, is in your heart, makes up your fears and disappointments and fantasies and joys. Later, when you are out of that scary place and in the warm glow of the fireside and feeling cozy and comfortable, you can take out the personal journal, unlock it and read it back to yourself and decide what it is that you want to share with the world. If there is nothing that you would rather share, you are still lighter by a few tons of emotions and thoughts that were a recurring pattern in your mind. 

The best advice I myself have ever received about overcoming the Writer’s Block and I am sure every writer has had it too, is the ‘butt in chair’ trick. In other words, just write. It does not matter what and it really does not matter how and remember there are no devils or witnesses perched on your shoulder as you lurch from one disastrous paragraph to another. Just write and by and by, you would get the flow and voila, your voice too. 

What are your tips and tricks to get the better of the Writer’s Block?